No doubt you've heard many different terms thrown around when talking with experts about call centers. Some of those terms might become confusing when you hear varying terminology used. For instance, the term "answering service" is often used interchangeably with "call center."
In reality, there's a significant difference between what an answering service and call center does. When you outsource, you're sometimes able to enjoy both services. However, it all comes down to how competent they are in balancing these tasks.
What an Answering Service Does
An answering service provides basic customer service to both customers and prospects. They work on behalf of businesses, which is where the "service" aspect comes in.
Despite answering customer calls (sometimes 24/7), they're not just limited to these actions. High quality answering services go beyond basic message relay: they can forward messages to the appropriate departments and also answer frequently asked questions.
For instance, frequently travelling business owners would need a high quality answering service that can forward important business calls to you, while screening out telemarketers and low priority calls.
Having real human beings behind your answering service ensures messages are going to get sent to the right place. When your answering service is scheduling appointments while you're away, it eliminates the need to depend exclusively on impersonal automated systems.
What a Call Center Does
A call center is far more comprehensive and ultimately takes on more complex calls. Agents who work in a call center take on longer calls, some lasting up to fifteen minutes or more.
Working as customer service representatives, call center agents may have to deal with challenging situations like customer dissatisfaction. Undoubtedly, you've had some experience handling this if you've previously assembled a call center in your business.
An answering service typically goes from one call to the next in quicker succession.
Problem solving is always expected with a call center. You'll want your agents to have enough skills to not only help answer frequently asked questions, but handle a tough billing problem, or take on a complex product order.
Call Centers Also Offer Help Desk Response or Lead Qualification
Your business may provide a technical service of some sort, requiring a devoted Help Desk to provide Tier I tech support. Helping customers with a technical problem requires patience and communication prowess.
Perhaps you have some history with this already and have a few nightmare stories to tell. Starting your own call center for help desk response is not easy, especially without proper training.
When qualifying leads, it's no different. Call centers usually deal in making "warm calls" to prospects to sign them up for subscriptions or maybe a course you provide. Answering services never go near this territory, but you can see how significant a call center is in comparison.
Comparing the Skill Set of Answering Service Agents and Call Centers Agents
Answering service agents are helpful for performing receptionist duties, though they can't always answer every question a customer has. Just when you think you have all the most commonly asked questions in mind, someone may call and ask an obscure question you didn't think about. Call center agents are better trained to deal with complex situations whereas answering service agents will simply escalate the caller to the business owner.
Answering services typically don't handle longer, more complex calls. For product orders, new customer enrollments, or lead qualification, a call center is preferred since they have to show competency in understanding different products for your business or understanding the goals of your marketing campaign.
To answer frequently asked questions, answering services are usually ideal. Even though call centers and answering services can perform the same basic functions, an answering service is designed for shorter calls (roughly one to two minutes). Using an outsourced call center can combine the two so some agents answer short questions and other agents handle the longer, complicated questions.
Should You Outsource to an Answering Service?
No matter what kind of business you have, having an answering service is essential, and should usually complement a call center.
Typically, smaller to medium-sized businesses do well with answering services, especially if hiring and training your own call center agents is not cost effective.
You'll know you need to outsource an answering service if you're receiving a heavy volume of calls and need more business continuity.
When to Outsource to a Call Center vs. Answering Service
Weighing the options of creating your own call center should all come down to what your budget is and whether you have the right staff to handle it all. Outsourcing to a call center means you're going to have a fully-trained team understanding your business thoroughly so you'll only have to pay for the service rather than employees.
At Westpark Communications, we're one of the few call centers that are able to give you more comprehensive call center features. We can easily implement complex solutions for your business when scaling your communication solution up or down.
We're available to answer questions about the many call center services we provide. Read this guide to know what to look for hiring a call center.